Are you losing your love for your current fridge? Maybe it can't keep the vegies crisp anymore, or it's got a motor louder than a Harley Davidson, or it keeps having accidents on the floor that you have to mop up. Worse yet, maybe your fridge has gone and died and you're eating takeaway and drinking warm beer as you read this.

Video: Five things you should know before you buy a fridge

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Everybody needs a fridge, but you want a good fridge

It's one of the bulkiest and most expensive household appliances, you pretty much can't live without it, and it's (hopefully) going to last you a long time, so choosing the right fridge is a big deal. Chill out though, fridge shopping doesn't have to be hard. We've laid out the essentials for you.

What size fridge do you need?

Size

Do you have a fridge-sized hole to fill in your kitchen, or can you accommodate any size? If, like many people, you're restricted by the design of your kitchen, you'll want to do some measuring to find out what size fridge you need. If you are super-sizing, remember to measure your front door so you can actually fit the fridge in the house!

Wriggle room dimension

Keep some room on either side of the fridge, at the rear and on top, so it's got some space to let off heat from the motor. If you don't allow for some wriggle room, you'll spend more in the long run as the fridge will need to work harder to keep its cool. 

How big is your household?

Based on the number of people using the fridge, you can use the following as a general rule of thumb when choosing fridge capacity:

  • 1–2 people – 250–285L. ($499–$1199)
  • 3–4 people – 342–450L. ($799–$2699)
  • 5 or more – 450L+ ($1200–$3699) Add 28.5L for each additional family member, plus freezer space. If in doubt, get the bigger fridge.
If you think might need more freezer space than offered with the fridge, you might want to check out our buying guide for standalone freezers.

Reliability

Taking time off work to greet service people, losing good food that goes off, or trying to cook and eat a whole week's meat in one go – a faulty fridge is a pain! If you're not sure which brand to choose, check out our fridge reviews.

What type of fridge do you want?

Top mount – freezer on top

If price, range, efficiency and value are your biggest concern, this is the design for you.

Pros
  • cheapest purchase price
  • cheapest to run
  • a wider range of models to choose from
Cons
  • you have to bend down to access the fridge

Bottom mount – freezer on bottom

This is all about convenience – and saving you from back pain.

Pros
  • logical design – what you use most is at eye level
  • freezer often has handy slide-out baskets
  • a wider range is becoming available
Cons
  • more expensive to buy
  • marginally more expensive to run
  • can be slower to chill, especially in the freezer

Side-by-side – fridge next to freezer

Plenty of space and extra features – great for entertainers or large families.

Pros
  • lots of features available like ice cube and water dispensers
  • good for walkway spaces or areas where you can't have a large swinging door
  • good storage capacity
  • best access for people in wheelchairs
Cons
  • ice-cube maker/water chiller can take up a lot of freezer space
  • internal space is quite narrow and won't always fit a pizza box or frozen turkey
  • takes up a lot of space and can't fit in a tight corner
  • temperatures can be inconsistent between the top and bottom of the fridge

French door – bottom mount freezer with two door fridge

Very spacious, usually comes with extra features.

Pros
  • lots of features available like ice cube and water dispensers
  • good storage capacity
  • both fridge and freezer are wide enough for large platters and bulk foods
  • all the benefits of a bottom mount
Cons
  • ice-cube maker/water chiller can take up a lot of fridge space
  • takes up a lot of space and can't fit in a tight corner
  • costs more to buy

Pigeon pair – separate, but matching upright fridge and freezer

Flexibility with placement, as well as plenty of storage space.

Pros
  • can be kept separate (freezer in other part of house like laundry or garage)
  • good storage capacity
Cons
  • take up more space

Energy – complex maths part!

Cool running costs

Your fridge is the only appliance in your house that is almost always going to be turned on, so it's worth checking out the number on the energy label.

The lower the better

The lower the number on the energy label, the less it's going to cost you on your bill. The star rating will let you know how the fridge performs based on its size, but the number gives you the raw figures which are more useful. You can multiply them by your energy cost to get an estimate of what it will cost you per year to run the fridge.

For example, your energy costs 26 cents/kWh. The fridge uses 400kWh per year. 0.26 X 400 = Your fridge is going to cost you $104/year.

OK, now I know which type of fridge I need, what else should I look for?

Controls

  • Look for two separate temperature controls. A single control sets both the freezer and the fresh-food compartment, so you can't adjust one without affecting the other. Some electronic fridges have better independent controls.
  • Some fridges have a 24-hour memory that monitors door openings and precools the fridge before a period of heavy use – such as when the kids get home from school or you're preparing dinner.
  • And some automatically manage defrosting to suit conditions.
  • Some fridges let out a warning beep if you leave the door open too long.
Video: How to set up your fridge's temperature control settings.

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Door

Make sure the handles aren't too high or too low and that the door opens in the right direction for your kitchen. Some models have reversible doors. Remember, a display fridge in store that's not plugged in will be easier to open than a fridge that's turned on.

Shelves

Shelves ought to be easy to move and replace. Does the range of shelf positions suit your needs? For example, can you stand soft-drink or wine bottles in the door shelves? Split shelves can be handy for this. Some shelves are made from moulded plastic or safety glass, which helps stop milk spills spreading.

Rollers and adjustable feet

Rollers are useful for easy moving – when cleaning behind the fridge, for example. Four rollers are better than two, provided they have brakes or adjustable feet to secure the fridge and stop it from escaping. Adjustable feet (or adjustable rollers) are necessary for making the fridge level.

Cleaning

Look for smooth, easy to clean surfaces with no awkward corners or dirt-trapping areas.

Chiller

This compartment stores meat, fish and poultry (fresh or cooked), at a safe temperature, which keeps it fresh for longer. The chiller's temperature should be close to zero and ideally it should have a separate temperature control.

Quick-chill zone

Located close to the cold-air outlets, this feature is handy for cooling drinks quickly. But food left there too long can freeze.

Dairy compartment

A slightly warmer area of the fridge, convenient for keeping butter and hard cheeses slightly soft.

Crisper drawer

A good crisper saves you having to put your fruit and vegies in plastic bags. The compartment should be well sealed to keep vegetables fresh. Check that the fridge's air outlets don't blow onto it, as this will dry food out faster.

Water and ice dispenser

A dispenser located on the outside of the door saves you constantly opening and closing the fridge for cold drinks. Some water and ice dispensers need to be connected to a tap – an additional plumbing installation expense. With others, water can be dispensed from a container inside the door. They can take up almost 30% of your freezer space. Some water and ice dispensers require replacement water filters, an additional periodic expense.